Anyone arriving in the New South Wales country town of Orange expecting to see oranges might be sorely disappointed for, in spite of its name and its reputation as a food bowl for the state, oranges are not actually grown in the area. It’s a misconception common enough that there’s a long-running joke among locals that “Orange grows great apples”, and its cool climate does indeed make it a thriving producer of stone fruits such as cherries, peaches, apricots, plums and apples as well as berries, vegetables, nuts and wines.
Food and wine has become such a drawcard there are now three annual festivals that celebrate it – from Food Week in April and the Apple Festival in May to the Orange Wine Festival in October – all just a two-hour flight direct from Brisbane.
To market, to market
With flights departing on a Friday morning with regional airline Fly Corporate a short break can be timed to coincide with the Farmer’s Market held on the second Saturday of every month, a perfect introduction to the local produce and a chance to meet the local farmers.
Orange has more than 50 cafés – that's a lot of cafes for a town of only 40,000 people! –and for out-of-towners like us the good news is a lot of the best cafés, restaurants and bars are within walking distance in central Orange. If you want to go further afield then a rental car is the perfect way to explore the region at your own pace. If wine is your main focus and you want to avoid being the designated driver, consider booking in for a Half Day or Full Day Tasting trip with Orange Wine Tours for a fun yet informative tour of the Orange region’s local wineries.
After arriving in Orange bright and early, we take the short drive out of the centre of Orange in search of food, and more importantly, coffee. We arrive at The Agrestic Grocer (426 Mitchell Hwy) which is a cafe and speciality food shop started by couples Katie & Beau Baddock and Danielle & Lucas Martin. They serve up locally sourced and seasonally influenced breakfast and lunch items which were easily washed down with a cup of Orange Roasting Co Coffee.
With so many delicious items on the menu I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat - so the Ploughman's lunch looked like the perfect compromise. Filled with a selection of Second Mouse Cheese, Trunkey Creek cured meats and antipasto, this was a great way to try a selection of Orange produce. Afterwards we popped into the adjoining grocery and picked up a few delicacies for later including some local olive oil, a few bottles of beer from Badlands Brewery and fruit.
We hear that a local cheesemaker is doing wonderful things with dairy, and it just so happens to be onsite at Agrestic. The owner of Second Mouse Cheese is Kai Woltmann, and cheese is a passion that started back in his homeland of Germany. He originally moved to Sydney to work in project management, but after juggling his day time job with his cheese hobby, he soon moved to Orange to launch his own brand. He now produces a range of camembert, blue, haloumi, quark and feta cheese which are available throughout several stores in Orange.
Have a wine
Soon enough it’s wine o’clock and we arrive at Colmar Estate (790 Pinnacle Rd), located just outside of town in the highlands of Orange. This award-winning vineyard is set on 6 hectares of land and its high altitude makes it the perfect spot to grow white varieties and Pinot Noir. Owners by Bill and Jane Shrapnel, were inspired by a trip to France some 30 years ago that they could grow similar varieties to Alsace in Orange, given the almost identical climate. When a vineyard came on the market three years ago they packed up their lives and careers in Sydney for a “tree change” and were soon picking up a medley of wine awards from various shows. The cellar door looks out over the picturesque vines and is the perfect place for tasting a selection of their cool climate wines.
Since they’ve arrived they have discovered that country folk live up to their reputation – the locals have been welcoming and helpful and they have embraced the country contra system – for example, regularly trading wine for fresh cherries down the road or local beef from a nearby farm.
The next stop on our wine tour of Orange is Rowlee Wines (613 Cargo Rd), a much larger vineyard at 20 acres, complete with an impressive 1880’s homestead. Owner Nik Samodol focused his keen interest in winemaking and viticulture to plant grapes on the land and produce wine with only highest quality in mind. In addition to growing standard cool climate grapes such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Rowlee produces a unique array of wines including Arneis, a white Italian wine grape variety originating from Piedmont, Italy and Nebbiolo, an Italian red grape variety.
A little taste of Orange
As the sun sets we prepare for dinner, with the newly opened Charred Kitchen and Bar (1-5 New Street) our restaurant of choice. The food here is designed to share and is cooked using a wood and charcoal oven named Lucifer to impart a unique smoky flavour. And if you think this place is just about flame grilled meats, think again. Our vegetarian dining companion was thrilled with the unique spin on vege-friendly dishes. From a charred manchego custard to a roasted beetroot and onion crumble, these dishes played along perfectly with the beef cooked over coals and fire roasted chicken.
We head back to our hotel to retire for the evening, stuffed with food and wine and happy to do it all over again tomorrow. Orange, you’ve been an absolute pleasure.